October 17, 2003 at 10:21 a.m.
North Branch 10
They’re the most potent offense in the Rum River Conference for good reason.
Just how potent, consider this....
Going into last Friday night’s game with the Tigers, the North Branch defense was first in the league, surrendering just 10.8 points per game. It took Princeton 11 minutes to surpass that mark.
Paced by 25 points and 248 yards of total offense in the first half, the Tigers steamrolled past the Vikings, handing North Branch their first loss of the season, 37-10. More importantly, the Vikings loss dropped them into a three way tie for first place in the conference with one game left. Oh the possibilities.
Both teams traded defensive jabs early in the first quarter before Princeton went to the air to open things up. After a 28 yard scamper by the Tigers, quarterback Mike Patnode hooked up with Josh Lundeen for a 13 yard pass strike 7:36 into the game, giving Princeton the lead, 6-0.
Meanwhile, the North Branch offense was sputtering.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t maintain a drive,” said Joel Swanson, North Branch head coach. “We continue struggling to convert in short yardage situations. In order for us to be more consistent on offense, we must be able to convert in those situations.”
Against a lethal Tiger offense, it wasn’t a good problem to have.
With under one minute to play in the first quarter, Princeton struck again as Patnode reached the end zone on a quarterback sneak, jumping the Tigers in front 12-0. The play was set up by a 33 yard to the Viking three yard line.
“We’re not as big as other teams and we’re not as strong, so we have to execute. That’s been a stalemate for us this season,” remarked Swanson. “We’ve been making some mental mistakes. We’re just not that big. A lot of teams got us by an average of 50 pounds on the offensive line. Princeton was the best line we’ve seen this season. I had players being beaten off the ball by kids who were 50 pounds heavier than they were. What are you supposed to say?”
Looking to answer, Marc Vanden Heuvel did just that on the ensuing kick-off, playing the ball on a bounce at the North Branch one before sprinting down the sidelines for a 99 yard kick-off return. Add a Baumann extra point and the Vikings were in business, down 12-7.
The homecoming crowd was in a frenzy, but in a span of 30 seconds, the cheers quickly turned to moans. Helped by a long kick-off return of their own, on their first play of the the drive, Princeton went deep, hooking up on a 69 yard touchdown strike. The score pushed the Tiger lead to 11 at the end of the first quarter.
“They definitely out-played us, but here we were right back in it,” mentioned Swanson. “We get a big return and then they throw that touchdown pass. They were able to convert on all situations. That score definitely put us back on our heels.”
North Branch did their best to respond. The Vikings opened the second quarter with a long and time consuming drive. Finally, facing fourth and short, Swanson sent Baumann out onto the field to attempt a mammoth field goal. The senior didn’t hesitate one bit, nailing the ball 41 yards for three more points, once again pulling the red and white withing a touchdown, 18-10.
This time, it took the high powered Princeton offense two plays to respond. Set up by another long kick-off return, junior Ryan Kotnick took the hand-off up the middle and rumbled 36 yards for the answer, making it 25-10. The scoring drive took two plays, lasting just over one minute.
With time winding down in the half, North Branch tossed the ball down the field in desperate fashion. An answer before the half was essential. Instead, the Tigers grabbed even more momentum away from the Vikings with a interception at their own goal-line with 1:16 left, stopping the North Branch drive, maintaining a 25-10 lead at the break.
To open the third, the Tigers got the ball and kept it. Working with a 15 point lead, the Tigers went back to their ground attack, controlling the field and the clock. Princeton eventually capped off their opening drive of the half with another one yard touchdown run, finishing off a 15 play, seven minute drive.
“In the second half, they just dominated, running 40 some plays to our eight,” said Swanson. “Defensively, we’ve always played with a bend but not break philosophy, but Princeton was just too big. We brought another guy up in the box to stop the run and they passed the ball and made plays. Then, when we dropped a guy back, they ran the ball at us. We just couldn’t find a way to stop them.”
Leading 31-10 heading into the fourth quarter, the Tigers continued to control the game. Princeton finally put their finishing touches on the win at the 7:45 mark of quarter four with another touchdown run, running the final score to 37-10, handing the Vikings their first loss of the season.
“Princeton is a very good ball club,” remarked Swanson. “They are the best team we’ve played so far this year. They were much bigger and stronger than us. We need to learn from this game. We need to move on, it’s a short week and Chisago has a lot of weapons. It’s a big game for both teams.”
Yes, up next is Chisago Lakes, one of the three teams tied with the Vikings on top of the conference. In comes down to one game. A North Branch win means at least a share of the conference title, while the same can be said when discussing the Wildcats scenario. Throw in a Princeton loss to Mora and the winner of Wednesday night’s showdown could win the conference outright. Yah, I‘d say it’s a big game.
“For us to win, we must keep them from getting the big play, and offensively, we must eliminate our mental mistakes and convert our short yardage opportunities. We will need to play our best game of the season.”
They both will.
North Branch 10
1 2 3 4 F
Princeton 18 7 6 6 37
North Branch 7 3 0 0 10
P- 13 yrd. TD pass
(2 pt. conversion failed) 6-0
P- 1 yrd. TD run
(2 pt. conversion failed) 12-0
NB- Vanden Heuvel 99 yrd.
(Baumann kick good) 12-7
P- 69 yrd. TD pass
(2 pt. conversion failed) 18-7
NB- Baumann 41 yrd. FG 18-10
P- 36 yrd. TD run
(Kick good) 25-10
P- 1 yrd. TD run
(Kick failed) 31-10
P- 2 yrd. TD run
(Kick failed) 37-10
North Branch statistics:
Fletcher- 12-17, 102 yrds.
14 rush, 30 yrds.
Olson- 4 rush, 7 yrds.
Fletcher- 2 rush, -1 yrds.
Hutchings- 1 rush, -11 yrds.
Anderson- 4 rec, 49 yrds.
Vanden Heuvel- 3 rec., 23 yrds.
Beaver- 2 rec., 14 yrds.
Olson- 2 rec., 5 yrds.
Meier- 1 rec., 11 yrds.